When Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was released in November of 2016, the sales figures fell short of publisher Activision’s expectations. The critical scores, while leaning positive, were ultimately mixed. By this point in history, various developers handled the Call of Duty franchise in a three-year development cycle. Infinity Ward, the developer credited with having created in the series in the first place, was behind Infinite Warfare, putting them in a bad way. One year later, Sledgehammer Games found success in bringing the series back to its World War II roots in the form of Call of Duty: WWII. Infinity Ward wound up following suit.
Taking inspiration from contemporary acclaimed works such as Homeland, American Sniper, and Sicario, campaign gameplay director Jacob Minkoff wanted the medium to explore taboo subjects. These sentiments were echoed by studio art director Joel Emslie, who promised his game’s narrative would be “much more grown-up [and] mature”. While Infinite Warfare cast the series into the future and WWII set its sights to the past, this new game would take place in the modern day. As a callback to the game that established the series as one of the most profitable in the history of the medium, it was named Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Although it didn’t quite achieve the overwhelming praise as the original Modern Warfare, the 2019 reboot was released to fairly high acclaim. Does this game truly advance the medium as Mr. Minkoff or Mr. Emslie intended?
Despite major the personnel change following the release of Modern Warfare 2, few franchises could claim to have moved the sheer number of units as Call of Duty by the end of the seventh console generation. Modern Warfare 3 and the two Black Ops installments in particular stand as some of the greatest selling games of all time, with sales figures exceeding thirty-million each. As each entry in the Modern Warfare trilogy eclipsed the last in terms of sales, Activision requested the creation of a new game on an annual basis. By 2013, the seventh console generation was nearing its end. This year in particular proved to be a something of a tumultuous time for the industry. Though titles such as BioShock Infinite and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds were good swansongs, companies – publishers in particular – seemed to become less scrupulous with their marketing tactics. One of the worst cases of this occurred in February of 2013 when, in a move that wouldn’t seem out of place in the eighties or nineties, a review embargo was effected in order to sell one-million units of the terrible Aliens: Colonial Marines.
In November of 2013, the annual release of the latest Call of Duty installment, Call of Duty: Ghosts, installment came to pass. As per usual, the marketing campaign was extensive, ensuring that even those who don’t play games knew of its existence. Taking the reviews at face value, one could get the impression that what Infinity Ward, Neversoft, and Raven Software created was a decent game.
The fan response was a different story. Immediately after the game’s release, a faction of enthusiasts took to the aggregate review site Metacritic to write immensely negative pieces in protest. By 2013, the gaming sphere as a whole had a notorious reputation for being reactionary with their backlash to the positive reception of Gone Home earlier in the year being a particularly egregious example. However, there was one piece of evidence to suggest that these weren’t the actions of an unduly negative, yet vocal minority. While the installments leading up to Call of Duty: Ghosts broke sales records, this one didn’t fare quite as well. Activision blamed the slump of demand on the uncertainty caused by the impending start of the eighth console generation. The mid-2010s was a time when the opinions of critics and those of fans often clashed with each other. Was Call of Duty: Ghosts a decent game unfairly lambasted or the disaster those fans made it out to be?
Infinity Ward’s 2009 effort, Modern Warfare 2, sold around twenty-three million units, overtaking the original by nearly ten million. Shortly after the new decade began, two key figures from the company, co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella, were fired by the CEO of Activision, Bobby Kotick, for “breaches of contract and insubordination.” It is widely speculated that this was done so Kotick could avoid having to pay West and Zampella bonuses for their successful campaign. This development in turn caused a significant chunk of Infinity Ward’s staff to leave the studio and file a lawsuit against Activision in order to regain their losses.
During this turmoil, Activision, not wishing to let a golden opportunity to cash in on a popular franchise go by, requested that members of the recently-formed Sledgehammer Games collaborate with Infinity Ward to create a sequel to Modern Warfare 2. This new company was founded by veterans Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey who were responsible for developing the widely praised horror-themed shooter, Dead Space. The burden fell on them and the remnants of Infinity Ward to complete the trilogy, tying up all the remaining loose ends in the process.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a huge success, selling more copies than any of the franchise’s previous installments combined. As one would expect, the publisher wished to further capitalize on this triumph. Infinity Ward had recruited Jesse Stern, a writer and executive producer of the American procedural drama, NCIS, three years prior during development of their 2007 hit, impressing him with the scope of its narrative. With him on board, the team set out to make a sequel to Call of Duty 4 with the goal of including even more shocking twists and ensuring the experience they created would leave an indelible impact on the medium. After much speculation from both the gaming press and consumers, the project was completed in 2009 under the name, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,” turning the subtitle its predecessor bore into a subseries within the franchise.
In 2002, a gaming company known as Infinity Ward was established. Among its ranks were three former employees of 2015, Inc.: Vince Zampella, Grant Collier, and Jason West – their most notable product during their tenure being the 2002 hit Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. The following year, Infinity Ward launched their debut game: Call of Duty. It too was a success with critics lauding the experience for providing a realistic take on first-person shooters set in the Second World War. The title’s biggest innovation, and part of what made it stand out from its contemporaries, was how it had the player assume the role of one soldier in a larger group as opposed to a lone wolf protagonist. This marked the beginning of a franchise, which included two more sequels that used the same setting as the first installment. Then, in 2007, Infinity Ward released the series’ fourth installment, surprising the gaming community by having the story take place in the modern age.